Sunday, November 17, 2019

Thanksgiving in the Old West - and a Giveaway

By Davalynn Spencer

A close friend of mine is having chicken and dumplings for Thanksgiving dinner this year because that’s what her grandson requested.

Works for me.

Typically, it’s hard to imagine the big Thanksgiving spread without a turkey in the middle of the table surrounded by all the fixin’s such as that depicted in Norman Rockwell’s famous painting from the 1940s, Freedom from Want.

Freedom from Want by Norman Rockwell - Public domain
via the National Archives and Records Administration
But sixty to seventy years earlier on the Western frontier, the main dish could have been deer, fish, goose, corned beef, roast beef, tongue (bovine or bison), ham, or quail stew.

Quail on my home front huddling beneath a Colorado blue spruce.
Cranberry sauce and pies were fairly universal, though I imagine those cranberries had to be ordered ahead of time from wherever cranberries grew. Creative cooks might have substituted well-seeded chokecherries, currants, or some such. Dried apple or pumpkin pies were common, as were sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, pickles, root vegetables, and cake.

And let’s not forget baked beans, vinegar pie, and the West’s constant standby of fresh biscuits and stout coffee.

Kansas City hotels in the late 1880s reportedly offered oysters, elk, squirrel, opossum, shrimp, and other delectables. I’d probably be late for supper if squirrel was on the menu.

From as early as 1621, people in what became the United States of America celebrated a fall harvest festival during which they thanked God for protection and provision, sharing their feast with neighbors and friends.

The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, by Jennie August Brownscombe.
This 1925 painting corrected her 1914 depiction of Plains Indians rather than tribes common
to the Plymouth area. Public domain via the National Museum of Women in the Arts.
George Washington first proclaimed a latter Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving, but not until 1863, during President Abraham Lincoln’s term, was Thanksgiving recognized as a federal holiday. I imagine for many, this call to give thanks during America’s Civil War served as a poignant reminder and challenge.

It has long been touted that early American Benjamin Franklin believed the common turkey to be more honorable than the bald eagle when decisions were being made about the national bird. Much of the tale is hearsay, though in retrospect, it’s hard to imagine the humble turkey replacing the majestically depicted bald eagle.

It’s also hard to imagine a featherless eagle centerpiece on my Thanksgiving table.

However, I have heard of people fending off angry gobblers that had other ideas about what should be served for supper.

What’s on your menu this year? Comment below to have your name tossed in the drawing for an e-copy of my Thanksgiving tale, Mail-order Misfire. And have a blessed and thanks-filled Thanksgiving, whether you celebrate singularly or in the company of others.


Wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, Davalynn Spencer can’t stop #lovingthecowboy. She writes award-winning Western romance with rugged heroes, teaches writing workshops, and refuses to put her quail in a stew. She plays the keyboard on her church worship team and wrangles Blue the Cowdog and mouse detectors Annie and Oakley. Connect with her at


  1. I vote for turkey and the fixings on that day especially. We don't choose turkey any other day of the year except Christmas once in a while, but usually we still have pieces of turkey in the freezer from the Thanksgiving bird!!! Thanks for the post, and the giveaway.

  2. some interesting facts. thanks for sharing. since my mom died, my sister and i are doing non traditional things. like beef stew or stroganoff. simmple things. not a lot of fuss. we still have turkey though for those that just have to have turkey. this year will be even simpler. just because her son has been in and out of the hospital. recent so he is still recovering. my husband was in and out of the hospital as was his mother. all this month. this will be a crock pot dinner this year. quilting dash lady at comcast dot net

    1. Crock-pot meal sounds good to me. Blessings, Lori.

  3. Davalyn, Thank you for this interesting post. I don't eat turkey. I'm not sure what will be on the menu this year.


    1. Well Caryl, you have a week and a half to decide! Thanks for commenting!

  4. Caryl - You are the randomly chosen winner of my giveaway. Congratulations! I'll be in touch.